Last Night in Soho
2021, R, 116 min. Directed by Edgar Wright. Starring Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Diana Rigg, Terence Stamp, Rita Tushingham.
REVIEWED By Trace Sauveur, Fri., Oct. 29, 2021
Last Night In Soho is a film about perception. If you couldn’t tell from the trailers, mirrors and reflections are the most prominent visual motifs present here. In those mirrors, Ellie (McKenzie) sees the reflection of her mother, who died after moving to London. When Ellie follows in her footsteps out to Soho after getting accepted into fashion school, she begins seeing someone else in them too: the elegant and talented Sandy (Taylor-Joy), seemingly the personification of everything Ellie wishes she could be.
More than that, in her visions she’s drawn into Sandy’s entire world in Sixties London, as she works at becoming a performer at one of the most esteemed nightclubs in the city. Her exciting life of lights and dancing and success in the past is one she yearns to retreat to during the day as an escape from feeling like an outsider where she doesn’t belong. Of course, it’s not long before the London of the past turns out it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, and soon Ellie would do anything to escape the visions that plague her. As for whether this is a haunting or an internalized alter-ego run rampant, well, you’ll just have to see for yourself.
This is a story well-suited for camera trickery so it’s no wonder that it’s coming from one of our most proficient visual craftsmen Edgar Wright (co-written by him and Krysty Wilson-Cairns). His continued foray into films with less of a comedic bent (beginning with the action-focused Baby Driver) sees him trying his hand at an earnest horror-thriller as opposed to the punchline-punctuated frights of something like Shaun of the Dead. That distinct vision is translated here with the help of cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung into several truly dazzling set pieces of color, dancing, and violence. Gone are the frenzied editing and ironic snark of Wright’s comedies; Soho is slick, sexy, and mostly serious, with sequences built to be lavish and grand until they turn feverish and bloody. His distinctive personality as a filmmaker is as present as ever, just presented here under different terms.
It’s the story itself that drags the film down. For all the neat in-camera effects and immaculate staging of its set-pieces, so many of its biggest moments are only satisfying on an aesthetic level and burdened by a hollow script. The villain of Sandy’s world, Jack (Smith), has such little antagonistic presence it’s laughable, as are the goofy looking faceless entities that begin to stalk Ellie. It’s no secret that Wright is a huge film dork and owes many of the most successful scenes here to his plethora of influences, but there’s only so far that well-executed pastiche and homage can take things before you start waiting for it to really kick into high gear. That’s right when it mostly deflates and stumbles through its closing moments.
It’s a shame, too – there’s lots of interesting threads here about the romanticization of the past, identity, and a feminist bent rallying against men who use women and their bodies, either for sex or for profit, or both. But Ellie and Sandy are so woefully underwritten that not only does the movie not really end up saying much of anything worthwhile, it’s also largely just dull, the last word you would expect to describe a Wright film. There’s not enough here to carry the painstaking production design and costuming – a visual feast let down by shortage of meaning. This is a movie about perception, indeed: As beautiful as it is on the outside, the inside is completely superficial.